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Prison System Faces Lawsuit Alleging Lethal Injection Secrecy

COLE COUNTY, Mo. – A recently filed lawsuit is challenging the way the Missouri Department of Corrections releases information to the public about how it administers lethal injections.
COLE COUNTY, Mo. – A recently filed lawsuit is challenging the way the Missouri Department of Corrections releases information to the public about how it administers lethal injections.
The suit also claims the state's actions prohibit public oversight of the death penalty.

The lawsuit was filed by the Freedom of the Press, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation (ACLU), and St. Louis Public Radio reporter Christopher S. McDaniel.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday (May 15) in Cole County, Mo. It seeks to compel the Missouri Department of Corrections to release information about the drugs the state uses for lethal injection executions. The lawsuit claims the department is selective in what information it releases.

On Oct. 22, 2013, the Department of Corrections (DOC) announced it added a compounding pharmacy to its execution team.

Before that date, the DOC would disclose information about the source and nature of the drugs used in lethal injections. However, after this announcement, it changed its policies and began denying access to the records.

According to Missouri law, members of the execution team, as defined in the execution protocol of the DOC, can be kept confidential.

However, the lawsuit argues the department's refusal to disclose information regarding the drugs violates Missouri's Sunshine Law, which ensures broad public access to government records.

The agencies also say the compounding pharmacy could not be considered a part execution team because it cannot "administer lethal gas or chemicals" or "provide direct support" in administering chemicals, as is the required criteria for someone to be a member of an execution team.

The lawsuit goes on to say that the DOC's failure to provide requested records is a purposeful or knowing violation of the Sunshine Law.

Other media filed a second lawsuit against the DOC over its refusal to reveal the source of drugs used to carry out lethal injections.

According to the Kansas City Star, the Associated Press (AP), the Guardian US, the New York-based digital news service of England’s The Guardian, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star and the Springfield News-Leader are all part of the lawsuit.

Each of the media outlets has made formal open records requests seeking information from the DOC.

Along with requests for documents to be made available for inspection and copying, the lawsuit asks for civil penalties against the DOC for allegations of Sunshine Law violations.

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